Featured Alumni

Melissa Calkins

Why I Give:


For many competitive athletes, the trophy is the focus and the ultimate indicator of success. For athletes like Melissa Calkins, cultivating relationships with her teammates proved as rewarding as collecting wins. 

With an impressive and varied career spanning the 1996-’99 seasons, she started out as a freshman on the UW men’s team. It was only a matter of weeks before she was brought over to the varsity team to fill the team’s lack of experienced coxswains.

In that first year, she coxed the Men’s Varsity 4 to a Pac-10 championship. She casually shares, “The following year, I coxed the men’s JV boat, and we were undefeated and helped sweep the 1997 IRAs. We went on to race at Henley that year, and raced in the Temple Cup.” Her talent was noticed and coveted by the women’s team and in the fall of ’97, she started coxing for the women’s team and coach Jan Harville. She lead that varsity boat to its second NCAA Championship win.

Even with all these (and more) notable victories under her belt, Melissa maintains a more lasting love for the program itself and the teammates she befriended. “I loved the sense of community rowing brought me, and the life-long friendships it fosters. Even after leaving the UW, you always feel welcome back at the boathouse by your old teammates and coaches.” Recently, she has been a part of a team of former Husky and rower women for the Pacific Northwest Ragnar relay. Teams of twelve women race 200 miles from the U.S. Canadian border to Langley, Washington. “Even after 20 years from leaving the UW boathouse, it seems as is very little time has passed,” Melissa says.
It’s a deep fondness for a sport or school that inspires alumni to donate their time and money; a passion that Melissa has in droves.

“I am incredibly grateful for my time on the crew and the experience it gave me when I was at the UW. I feel that being a part of both the men’s and women’s teams has shaped me as a person; it cultivated self-confidence, determination, and taught me what it means to be part of a team,” she says. “One of the things I love about rowing is that it truly is a team sport, and every seat is important. Even if you feel like you are not a contender for a spot in the Varsity 8, work every day as if you are, as you can only help push the team higher.”

With that knowledge of the value of teamwork, Melissa graciously decided to contribute to the Husky Reels Project. A program implemented by UW Libraries Special Collections, the Husky Reels Project aims to raise money for the salvaging and publishing of vintage UW sports film reels dating back to the 1920’s. With a goal of $1.5 million, Husky Reels received donations that will be directed toward the damage assessment, preservation, cataloging and online publication of over 80 years of Husky athletics footage, which will otherwise be lost.

In addition, Melissa has generously donated to the rowing program she remembers so fondly. “I feel that it is important for me to help future generations of Huskies go through this amazing program, and donating to this program is a way for me to give back.”

As a star alumna and now donor of the UW rowing program, Melissa says, “I would remind athletes that to be part of the Husky Crew is to be part of an amazing legacy, so work hard, enjoy it, and make us proud! Go Huskies!”

Hana Dariusova and Sabina Telenska

Life Lessons Learned

in a Rowing Shell

Olympians Hana Dariusova and Sabina Telenska reflect on their time rowing for the University of Washington.

Conibear Shellhouse has become a home away from home for hundreds of international rowers. Leaving almost no continent untouched, the unmistakable on-the-water prowess of the Husky crew combined with the immediate sense of family on the team attracts rowers and coxswains alike.

From the Czech Republic, Sabina Telenska, ‘00, and Hana Dariusova, ‘95, were moved by the women on the team when they rowed during Opening Day in 1991.

“You could see the motivation,” said Washington alumna Sabina Telenska, reflecting on the first time she met the team. “It was contagious; it was like a movie.”

Hana came to the University of Washington during the winter of 1992, and in the fall of 1996, Sabina moved to Washington as well from the Czech Republic, with nearly 10 years of rowing experience under her belt.

Hana started rowing in 1985 with SK Smíchov, placed third in the Junior World Championships 1990(8+), won silver and gold in 1991(4x, 8+). Sabina began rowing in 1986 with the ČVK Praha rowing club where she won silver and gold at the Junior World Championships in 1991(4x, 8+) and 1992(4-, 8+) and competed in an 8+ during the 1992 (8+) and 1996 Olympic games.

It was in her rowing career as a teenager that Sabina met Hana. During their time with the Czech team, they rowed in the 8+ at the 1992 Olympic and as pair partners in the 1996 Olympics. When Hana decided on attending UW in 1992, Sabina visited and didn’t think twice about attending; she knew it was the place for her as well.

Driven to win, both Hana and Sabina felt the strong unity of the team leading their motivation. “I just felt the most incredible bond with my teammates,” said Hana. “Some of us are best friends to this day.” Put a large group of people working together daily towards the same goal and there’s bound to be a connection, but the bonds felt while both Hana and Sabina were on the team were similar to a family. Coming into the UW not knowing English can seem daunting to some, but the two women didn’t let it hinder their time on the team.

“I was presented an opportunity and grabbed it,” said Sabina. “I earned my way into the Husky family.” During their time on the team, both women went on to win many first place awards with the varsity 8+. The two say they owe a lot of their success to the “no-nonsense” coaching approach of both Bob Ernst and Jan Harville. On the team, success was not given out. According to Sabina, you were either in, or you were out, you had to earn your success both on and off the water.

Coach Jan Harville’s constant reminders to go “back to the basics” on the water still ring true for Hana to this day when she is feeling overwhelmed by the noise of life.

When asked about her proudest moment, Hana said it was beating Princeton during Opening Day, on their home turf in front of Husky fans and families. But according to Hana, just being on the team is something to be proud of.

“Looking back, it was just a magical experience,” said Hana. “We were lucky to be a part of it.” For Sabina, winning the varsity 8+ races at the 1997 and 1998 NCAA Championship, as well as winning the 2000 Henley Prize with her varsity 8+ at the Henley Regatta were all important races for her career as a Husky. To her, simply coming in every day and getting stronger with her team made her proud to be a Husky.

To the pair, the long hours on the lake were never a chore, but rather an essential step in shaping not only their progress as a rower but their outlook on life and work.

To put it simply, Sabina says “If you think training is hard, try losing.”

Dani Hansen

Like Mother,

Like Daughter

On the water, Dani Hansen is cool, calm and collected. Full of determination, each stroke brings her closer to another gold medal. Only 35 years prior, her mother was in the same position, braving the chilly, early mornings and grueling erg tests. Both Hansen women have been an essential part of UW rowing’s legacy. 

Mother Sharon Hansen – known as Sharon Ellzey in college – arrived at the University of Washington in 1980, and sought out the athletic director, Kit Green. Sharon played basketball in high school, but missed the chance for tryouts at UW. After discovering that there was no field hockey or softball, she was encouraged to check out the women’s rowing team. As if it were fate, Sharon grew into a successful rower, later winning two national championship titles in ‘81 and ‘82.

Dani Hansen is currently a senior at UW, double majoring in psychology and communications. Due to a knee injury, Dani was able to redshirt her freshman year, being a part of the team without competing. This will allow Dani to spend a fifth year on the team next year.

Like many on the team, Dani had no prior rowing experience. In high school, Dani played volleyball well enough to be awarded a scholarship to play at Florida College.

“I had never even seen the sport, even though my mother had rowed whilst in college,” Dani says. “She’s such a humble lady and just never really talked about it much.”

Sharon took Dani on a road trip to see colleges, and decided to have coach Bob Ernst give her a tour of the sports facilities. Dani had her heart set on Florida College, but her mother joked that after two minutes with Ernst, he would change her mind, and, like clockwork, immediately after their conversation, Dani was sold.

Having an experienced rower as a mom has been a worthwhile advantage for Dani. She has someone to vent to, someone who will understand the stress of erg tests and pre-race jitters. Sharon likes being a voice of encouragement to her daughter.

“I know what it’s like to have the hands blistered, and the aching,” Sharon says.

The Hansen family is from California and because of this Sharon is not always able to make all of UW’s regattas, but Dani is always grateful for being able to race with her mom watching. Sharon makes her way up to Seattle multiple times a year for races and the VBC banquet, and always brings the coaches brownies “for putting up with me,” Dani joked.

For Sharon, her most memorable experience while on the team was winning the National Championship of 1981 in Oakland, Calif., and having her parents there to witness it. Now, roughly 30 years later, Dani’s favorite rowing memory is beating Cal on their home course in 2013, family cheering loudly at the finish line.

This year, Dani hopes to help her team win Pac-12’s, and then NCAA’s at the end of the season.

In the Hansen family, rowing has become more than a sport. For Sharon, it has helped her achieve goals and push herself in her career, as well in her personal life. According to Sharon, rowers can put up with just about anything. “You have good work ethic, you are not afraid,” Sharon says. “And if you are, you know how to go on anyway.”

Although both of the Hansen women are ports, rowing together is not completely off the table, and both mother and daughter would love to share boat-time. “We have never rowed together, but I hope one day we’ll be able to,” Dani added with a laugh. “We’d row in one very fast circle!”

Erin OConnell

Erin O'Connell

A Natural Leader

O’Connell was looking for a school where she could get a good education and also row. She originally wanted to be a sports writer so she was cross-referencing good communications schools with good rowing programs. At the end it came down to Cal and the UW, but it was really that first Windermere Cup when she knew “that’s where I’m going to go to school!”

O’Connell grew up in San Francisco, the daughter of a police officer. Her first experience in a rowing shell came at the age of 12. The San Francisco Police Department had a rowing team, and occasionally on the weekends she would cox their practices. She had never coxed before but it was “pretty basic stuff,” she says. “I was making sure they didn’t run into the shore and getting them out on the lake.”

From that experience she knew she wanted to row in high school, and ultimately college. She joined the Pacific Rowing Club, a Bay Area conglomerate for high school kids who want to row. It was there that “I really caught the rowing bug in a great way,” O’Connell says.

As a freshman in high school O’Connell tried rowing, but lasted about a month before she was told she was too small. Her coaches knew she had done some steering and they asked her to be a coxswain. She was thrilled with the opportunity to lead in this way, and she’s never looked back.

These early experiences seemed to set O’Connell up for a lifetime of leadership.

From her successful run as a coxswain for Washington from 1993-1996 to being an assistant women’s crew coach at UW from 1997-2003 to her current post as the first woman athletic director for Seattle Pacific University for the last seven years and the first female to chair USRowing, O’Connell has an exceptional, one-of-a-kind track record.

She coxed the Huskies to three Pac-10 Conference championships and collected a bronze medal at the 1995 Collegiate National Championship Regatta. As a senior, O’Connell was the team captain (alongside Michael Callahan who was the men’s captain) and a Pac-10 All-Conference selection.

She’s put in a lot of hard work and looked for opportunities to educate herself along the way. But she really credits Jan Harville and Bob Ernst with getting her to where she is today.

“Where I am today is largely due to my experience with Bob and Jan and the work I did as an assistant coach,” she says. Jan gave her a lot of opportunity over who she was coaching – like working with the team at the Royal Henley Regatta in 2000 – the first time women were allowed to row the historic regatta.

Bob Ernst remembers O’Connell clearly when she came to UW as a freshman. “I really liked her right from the beginning,” he said. “She’s just on fire. She’s got a lot of energy and she doesn’t have boundaries and she’s good. She’s really good. She’s showing other gals that there aren’t any limits.”

O’Connell also acknowledges the role her family has played as well as what she learned as a student-athlete: “The resilience and the time management and the learning to deal with wins and losses and the commitment to a whole bunch of other people prepares you for a career in general and certainly in college athletics. What I’m doing right now isn’t that much different than being a team member and being a coxswain. Now I just have a different title. I’ve been telling people what to do for a very long time,” she says with a laugh.

“Now it’s just in a different seat. All of my coaches (at SPU) are team members and we have to make the boat go together.”

"…most ex-oarsmen will tell you they learned more fundamentally important lessons in the racing shell than in the classroom."
– George Pocock
Alumni Rowing